"This has turned into the most blood-soaked Ramadan yet in the Islamic State’s campaign," writes The Washington Post's Liz Sly. "At least 290 people have been killed in attacks claimed by or linked to the Islamic State — at Istanbul Ataturk Airport, at a restaurant frequented by foreigners in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, and in Baghdad. The vast majority of them, 222 people, died in the Baghdad blast, which targeted a shopping street packed with people celebrating the end of the day’s fast and shopping for the approaching holiday."
The bombing in central Karrada shopping district of Baghdad, a city ravaged by years of sectarian bloodletting, was the deadliest in Iraq since 2007. It was followed by three more strikes across Saudi Arabia, including an explosion in the city of Medina near the 7th century mosque where the prophet Muhammad is buried. It's one of the holiest sites of Islam.
The near universal reaction to the spate of terrorist violence has been one of outrage and bewilderment.
"There’s a Muslim tradition that says that, before Jesus descends, the Antichrist will have free reign over the earth, filling it with injustice and evil. But he won’t be allowed to enter Mecca or Medina," explains Muslim-American writer Haroon Moghul. "Perhaps it’s this conviction that explains why so many Muslims I am talking to right now simply cannot believe what has just happened."
Saudi Arabia's supreme council of clerics said the blasts "prove that those renegades... have violated everything that is sacred."
Despite suffering significant battlefield reverses in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State has showed its capacity to inflict harm on a wide and devastating scale. Its fighters still preside over a sickening network of captives and sex slaves. Its proxies hit soft targets as far-flung as Jakarta and Paris. And its propaganda organs continue to trumpet the extremist organization's puritanical creed, challenging the legitimacy of the kings and politicos in the halls of power in the Middle East.
The Islamic State, said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday, is "a dagger stabbed into the chest of Muslims."
There's hope that the recent onslaught will spur greater, coordinated action against the extremist group. The attack on Saudi Arabia even drew sympathetic statements from its regional foe, Iran, whose theocratic Shiite regime is embroiled in a range of proxy struggles with the kingdom across the Middle East.
"There are no more red lines left for terrorists to cross. Sunnis, Shiites will both remain victims unless we stand united as one," tweeted Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
"The savage attacks in Turkey, Bangladesh, Iraq and Saudi Arabia should convince Muslim nations and the West that they share a common enemy in extremists groups such as the Islamic State," writes Post columnist David Ignatius. "What they need now is a shared command-and-control structure, like what the U.S. and Britain forged in December 1941, after the shock of Pearl Harbor."
Such an outcome would be ideal in the fight against Islamic State, though not perhaps likely. There have been numerous false dawns when it comes to regional cooperation on security matters. And just as much as they need to come together, many governments in the Muslim world also need to reckon with their own shortcomings.
Beyond the sheer evil of its actions, the violence of the Islamic State and its affiliates also exposed the failings of others.
In the aftermath of the attacks, governments in Ankara and Dhaka both took flak for not adequately tackling the Islamist threat in their midst. In Turkey, a porous border with Syria and the Turkish state's preoccupation with subduing Kurdish separatists gave the Islamic State strategic space to take root and thrive.
In Bangladesh, the government has struggled to cope with months of Islamist attacks on non-Muslims, secular intellectuals, LGBT activists and others, focusing more on subduing its political opposition.
"Instead of cracking down on the hardline groups which encouraged, or even sponsored, the attacks on local bloggers and minorities, the government effectively made concessions to the conservatives, with the prime minister implying those who had insulted religious sensibilities were in part responsible for their fate," writes Jason Burke, author of a recent book on the rise of the Islamic State.
(To be sure, authorities in both countries insist they're doing their utmost to fight against extremism.)
The most acute reaction to Islamic State carnage this past week was in Iraq. Angry crowds at the site of the bombing raged not just against the militants, but at the Iraqi government, whose perceived corruption and incompetence supposedly makes it unable to adequately protect its citizens.
The country's interior minister resigned in the wake of Sunday's blasts; in the face of mounting protests, the position of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi himself looks increasingly enfeebled, as my colleague Loveday Morris reports.
Iraq's fractious politics remains, in part, a legacy of the post-2003 status quo authored after the country's invasion by the U.S. and its allies, which removed dictator Saddam Hussein but created conditions that would lead to the Iraq's implosion into an orgy of Sunni vs. Shiite bloodshed.
The legitimacy of that foreign intervention is now once more in the news: A long-running British inquiry into its government's decision to go to war is set to publish its findings on Wednesday, which may lead to the formal censure of then Prime Minister Tony Blair. And Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, reiterated his support for Hussein's regime, which he claimed "killed terrorists."
That's a skewed reading of history. But even some Iraqis wish for the good old days of the Baathist regime. The BBC recently interviewed an Iraqi man who took part in the 2003 toppling of a giant statue of the Iraqi dictator, a now iconic moment in the modern history of the Middle East.
Kadhim Sharif al-Jabouri had lost family members to the prisons and execution squads of the regime. But now he found himself longing for the relative calm that existed under Hussein.
"I'd like to put it back up. To rebuild it," he said of the Saddam statue. "But I'm afraid I'd be killed."
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